Friday, December 04, 2009

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: First Impressions

The new 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has proven to be controversial. Every new edition of an RPG is controversial to some extent, but the introduction of 3rd edition WHFRP has some extra issues. Before I go further I should state that I'm still reading the rules. This is very much a "first impression" and I may later post a "second impression" if further examination of the rules changes any of my opinions.

First, there's nothing wrong with 2nd edition. That's not just my impression, we're talking about an award winning system that was first published in 2005. Second, there were still books that could be published for the system. Particularly more books focusing on non-humans. Sales may have dropped, but from a fan perspective there are still a lot of things that could be done with the line. Third, in corporate speak, Fantasy Flight leveraged their expertise in board games to bring a new level of production value to the 3rd edition that scared people into thinking that they were making it into some sort of board game hybrid. Fourth, not a few people unhappy with the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons came over to WHFRP and they see 3rd edition WHFRP as being a move in the same direction that 4th edition D&D took.

Some of these concerns are valid, particularly the first one, but others are less so. The end result though is that while the core mechanics of the rules have changed, the core concepts and feel of the game seems to remain unchanged. Here's a list of some things that 3rd edition still has from previous editions: career based character progression, insanity rules, dangerous magic, you can start your career as a commoner, skill and talent based characters, hand weapons (sword, axe, mace, club, hammer, etc.) are functionally identical, and the overall background is the same.

Some of the things that have changed: no more d100, the core mechanic uses a dice pool with special dice; stats and skills have been simplified, although many of the old skills are still present as specializations of a broader category, such as pick locks under skulduggery; the game uses cards, but in practice this is simply taking what could have been put in the rulebook and instead putting it on a card that's easier to reference during the game; new systems for dealing with fatigue and stress; new system for having your character take aggressive and defensive stances; and combat is less tactical.

That last change is worth discussing more, if only because one of the complaints of 4th edition D&D is that it's too tactical, and because people have been afraid that Fantasy Flight was turning WHFRP into a board game. Gone is the battle grid. All that matters now is relative distance between characters and whether or not they are engaged. I love this. While I enjoy tactical board and miniatures games, and can enjoy tactical combat in RPGs, I prefer a more narrative style, and it looks like 3rd edition WHFRP encourages this kind of play.

That isn't to say there aren't issues. I'm still reading through the books, but I have found a couple areas of concern. The first is the lack of an index. With rules spread over four booklets, and the organization in each booklet somewhat spotty, the rules badly need a comprehensive index. It's really inexcusable for a set of core rules for a major RPG to be released without one. As already mentioned, the lack of an index is compounded by some poor organization of the rules. In the table of contents the topic of "Stances" is only listed once, but the actual rules for it are spread out over at least three areas, with no repetition of rules between those areas. This makes it difficult to find the rule you're looking for even when simply sitting down and browsing the rules. Finding rules in play will be nearly impossible.

Another issue is the narrowness of scope of the core rules in terms of characters. The race options limit you to a fairly limited area of the campaign world to start with. This will prove particularly problematical for anyone looking to convert an existing 2nd edition campaign to 3rd edition. Also, some of those races aren't very well fleshed out in terms of career options. There are no advanced careers for either type of elf, and only one for dwarfs. There are some elf advanced careers rumored to be coming in the first expansion, but it's unfortunate they weren't included in the core rules.

Still, I'm really looking forward to getting this on the table and giving it a try.

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